Media Liaison Officer
For Mr Xanana Gusmao &
The Department of Foreign Affairs
East Timor Transitional Administration
Telephone: +61 (0)417 804 298
Mail: PO BOX 6, Dili, East Timor.
BIOGRAPHY OF MR XANANA GUSMAO
Baptismal Name: José Alexandre Gusmão
Nom-de-guerre: Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão
Date of Birth: 20 June 1946
Place of Birth: Manatuto, East Timor
Current Title: President of the Association of Resistance Veterans
Previous Titles: President, National
Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT)
Commander-in-Chief, Falintil, Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor
Speaker, National Council, ETTA, East Timor Transitional Authority
Contact Details: Office of the Association of Resistance Veterans PO Box 3, Dili, Timor Loro Sa´e (via Darwin, Australia) Email: email@example.com
Timor Leste: Um Povo, Uma Patria, Colibri, Lisbon, 1994 Portuguese collection of writings
Mar Meu, Editora Granito, Faculdade de Letras, Porto University, Porto, 1998 Collection of poetry and paintings in Portuguese and English
To Resist is to Win: the Autobiography of Xanana Gusmão with selected letters and speeches, Ed. Sarah Niner, Aurora Books, Melbourne, 2000
Awards and Prizes
1975 National Poetry Prize for ‘Mauberiadas’
1993 Order of Liberty, Portugal
1994 UN Human Right Award, Australia
1995 Honorary of the City of Brasilia, Brazil
1999 Sakharov Prize, European Parliament
2000 Order of Merit, New Zealand
2000 Keys to the City of Lisbon, Portugal
2000 Vice-President’s Medal, Brazil
2000 Jose Bonifacio Order of Merit, State University of Rio de Janeiro
2000 Kwangju Peace Prize, Korea
2000 Sydney Peace Prize, Australia
There is no guarantee of the accuracy of
information on these sites.
Jose Alexandre Gusmão was born on June 20, 1946 in Manatuto, on the north coast of Portuguese Timor. The second of eight children and eldest son, he was raised in various parts of the country. His parents were devout Catholics; his father a schoolteacher and catechist. He completed primary school at the Catholic mission of St Theresa’s in Ossu where his father taught, then went on to the Jesuit seminary “Nossa Senhora de Fatima” in Dare and later to night school at the Liceu in Dili. He began work to help support himself early in life and worked various jobs as a young man: a chartered surveyor, a teacher, a public servant, a wharf-side worker, a fisherman, a soldier and a laborer. He began writing for the local newspaper, “A Voz de Timor” (The Voice of Timor) in 1974. His talent for poetry and writing was recognized in 1975 when he won the Timor Poetry Prize with his epic historical poem “Mauberíadas”.
The Portuguese colonial administration of Timor began a long over-due process of decolonisation in May 1974 and political parties were encouraged to register. After much deliberation Xanana Gusmão joined the left-wing political organization FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) on 20 May 1975. After a brief civil war in August 1975 FRETILIN emerged as the interim administration of a fledgling nation and Xanana became Deputy Head of the Department of Information.
On December 7, 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor and Xanana took to the hills with recently formed FRETILIN army, FALINTIL.
The next three years of war took a huge toll on the Timorese people: an estimated 100,000 dead including President Nicolau Lobato in December 1978 and 80% of all resistance forces. Xanana found himself in the unenviable position of being responsible for the reorganization of the resistance.
In March 1981 he presided over the first National Conference of the Reorganization of the Country which created the FRETILIN body, the National Council of Revolutionary Resistance, CRRN. He was officially elected leader of the Council and Commander-in-Chief of FALINTIL, a responsibility that he had taken on in practice ever since Lobato’s death.
In 1983 he initiated the first preliminary talks with the occupying armed forces and negotiated a six-month cease-fire. During this time, free to travel the country, he began talking about pluralism and a multi-party system, having noted that not all nationalists were willing to join what they saw as essentially a left-wing political movement. A Policy of National Unity was launched and Xanana began to call for a common nationalist platform to include all Timorese no matter what their past political allegiances. Increasing contacts with the Catholic Church and further development of a clandestine network in urban areas and other occupied zones expanded resistance structures.
In 1987 he declared FALINTIL a non-partisan, national army and the following year, the Policy for National Unity became embodied in the new National Council of Maubere Resistance CNRM of which he was declared leader.
Xanana was captured in a secret underground bunker in Dili on November 20, 1992 by the Indonesian armed forces and imprisoned in Bali, Jakarta and Dili until his trial in February 1993. At the conclusion of a trial, denounced as farcical by all international observers, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. This sentence was later commuted to 20 years.
In prison, Xanana remained leader of resistance forces and devoted time to studying English, Bahasa Indonesia (the Indonesian language) and Law. He also painted and wrote poetry.
In April 1998 the East Timorese National Convention in the Diaspora established the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), an even more inclusive body than CNRM. Xanana Gusmão was acclaimed as President of CNRT.
After the fall of the Suharto dictatorship, in January 1999, the new Indonesian President Jusuf Habibie, proposed a UN-sponsored popular consultation for East Timor, something Xanana had been demanding for over ten years. Following increasing international pressure to release Xanana Gusmão and so that he could take part in negotiations concerning the consultation he was transferred from Cipinang Prison to house arrest in Salemba, Central Jakarta, on 10 February 1999. He received visits from foreign government representatives, including US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.
On 30 August 1999 the Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for their independence. A period of intense militia-led violence followed halted only by the intervention of a UN-auspiced, Australian-led peace keeping force. Xanana Gusmão was released from house arrest on 7 September 1999 and fled to Australia. It was the end of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and the beginning of the transitional process led by the UN. In October 1999 Xanana returned to a devastated East Timor and made emotional pleas for all Timorese to return home, to forgive and to rebuild.
Rapid developments in the political process and the general international recognition of Mr. Gusmão’s statesmanship accorded him recognition as leader of the East Timorese people. Re-elected as President of CNRT by approximately 400 delegates at the August 2000 Congress Xanana led celebrations for the first anniversary of the ballot. At this time he also resigned as Commandante of Falintil, explaining that he wanted to play a role in the political process as a civilian.
In growing calls for Timorisation of UNTAET, the UN Administration, a Transitional Cabinet, ETTA, comprised of four East Timorese and four UNTAET representatives was formed. An incipient parliament, the National Council (NC), comprised of 36 East Timorese representatives was sworn in. Gusmão was voted in as Speaker. With the development of ETTA many of CNRT’s Departments folded.
Changes to political structures were occurring quickly and another institution dear to the Timorese was also in flux. On the 1 February 2001 Xanana marked the transition of the pro-independence rebel army Falintil into the new East Timor Defense Force. He praised the veterans and his old Companheiro, Falintil Commander Taur Matan Ruak who was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Force.
On March 28 2001 Xanana resigned from the NC. The resignation was widely misinterpreted both nationally and internationally. His critics accused him of bowing out of the political process altogether, although many did not seem to understand what institution he was resigning from. In the lead up to elections Xanana maintained a demanding schedule of district visits to consult with and inform the people in rural areas in a campaign of civic education. He remained unaligned politically preferring to take on a neutral role as an advocate for a peaceful transition to independence and democracy.
In June 2001 at the Ceremony to mark the end of CNRT Xanana noted that it was the first time a ‘victorious liberation movement had voluntarily sidelined itself from power’. He commended cadres who were the ‘builders of our freedom’ and sympathized that it was difficult to accept the new circumstances and close down the organization. After this occasion Xanana no longer held any official position.
At a political debate in Dili, August 25 2001, Xanana announced his intention to stand for President early in 2002.
His nomination, he says, is conditional on the political parties committing themselves to a policy of tolerance and mutual respect.
On the 30 August 2001 the first democratic elections were held for a Constitutional Assembly. The East Timorese were praised for the massive and peaceful voter turnout. The following month 24 members of an all-East Timorese Council of Ministers of the Second Transitional Government were sworn-in. Their first task is to agree on a Constitution that will provide the framework for the Presidency and its election.
©Sarah Niner, Melbourne October 2001. S.Niner@latrobe.edu.au
- ends -
For further information contact:
Ms Caroline O’Brien
Media Liaison Officer
Telephone: +61 (0)417 804 298
Ms Atoki T. Madeira
Personal Assistant to Mr Gusmao
Telephone: +61 (0) 418 746 084
See also: BD: Recent news re Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão